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Employee of WHO in bribe probe

Employee of WHO in bribe probe

An employee of the World Health Organization’s Cambodia office shared insider information with a supplier who provided funds for his personal trips abroad, a Global Fund investigation released last week has found.

The investigation, conducted by the Global Fund’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), reveals that in 2009, a WHO Cambodia employee involved with the procurement of long-lasting insecticidal bed nets (LLIN) for the Global Fund had flights to Singapore paid for by Sumitomo Chemical Singapore (SCS), a mosquito net supplier.

The report says that the WHO employee “also appears to have shared information about upcoming LLIN needs in Cambodia with SCS during its efforts to win LLIN contracts”.

The WHO told the Post yesterday it has launched its own investigation into the allegations and that the employee is no longer with the organisation.

SCS paid $1,990 to the employee, who is not identified, for a personal trip to Singapore for a medical check-up in December 2009, the investigation report, released on Thursday, found.

Emails attached to the report reveal that SCS also paid for a five-star hotel in Singapore for the WHO employee and his wife for a holiday in late January 2009.

The Global Fund suspended contracts with SCS and Swiss firm Vestergaard Frandsen after the two-and-a-half-year-long investigation found that the mosquito-net suppliers had paid direct “commissions” totalling $410,000 to the director and deputy-director of the National Centre for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (CNM) between 2006 and 2011 to secure contracts.

The report reveals that on January 18, 2009, 11 days after SCS confirmed that the Singapore hotel had been booked for the WHO employee’s holiday, the employee notified SCS about an upcoming CNM procurement round in March prior to the tender being issued. In the same email – sent via his personal account – he provided the contact details of a WHO supply and administrative officer in Manila.

“Please do not say I provided this information to you, you can said (sic) it was [NAME REDACTED] who told you,” the employee wrote.

In a follow-up email after SCS confirmed it could supply the 500,000 nets required, the WHO employee says that SCS should tell the WHO contact in Manila that it received the information from the CNM.

“In case you cannot [supply all of the nets], you should say you can supply 300,000 in March and between April-May for another 200,000,” he writes.

“Sharing strategic or future procurement plans with only one bidder could provide that bidder with a competitive advantage over the others, as it enables the preplanning of production planning and availability of stock,” the Global Fund report says.

The WHO affiliate office in Manila, “served as a Procurement Agent for several Global Fund contracts”, according to the report.

The WHO employee in question was a member of CNM’s bid evaluation committee for Global Fund procurements – a committee which played “an integral role in selecting the ultimate entity to win LLIN contracts”, it adds.

Despite fingering this single employee, the OIG says elsewhere in its exhaustive report that it found “no evidence that [the] WHO had any knowledge of or participation in the schemes”.

WHO Cambodia representative Dr Pieter van Maaren said yesterday that after being notified by the Global Fund that an employee was being investigated, it immediately began its own investigation.

“The investigation is ongoing. Therefore, WHO cannot comment about specifics of the case, except to note that the employee in question no longer works for the Organization,” he said in an email.

“The World Health Organization has absolutely no tolerance for fraud or corruption by any of its employees.”

Seth Faison, head of communications at the Global Fund, said that the investigation’s findings would not affect the fund’s relationship with the WHO.

“Our staff work closely with WHO all over the world, and this investigation will not affect the close cooperation, either in Cambodia or anywhere else,” he said.

The Global Fund investigation found, in addition to commissions paid to top officials at the CNM, that a senior procurement officer at National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD Control had regularly manipulated procurements and accepted “facilitation” payments from suppliers.

It also uncovered that MEDiCAM, an umbrella organisation for a number of health NGOs, had improperly charged the Global Fund $20,725 for two staff positions that were not filled and that suppliers had spent more than $20,000 on gifts and other payments to the CNM director, his family members and other CNM officials.

The Global Fund has disbursed US$331 million for programs in Cambodia since 2003.